Well, no one said it was going to be easy.
The #2 ranked (according to BaseballAmerica.com) Oregon State Beavers are starting to make things interesting. Last weekend the Beavs took two out of three from then 20th ranked Arizona State Sun Devils. After one-hitting the Devils in the opening game for the win, the next day OSU was no-hit in a 4-0 loss. They took the finale 4-3, but gave up a whopping nine walks. Honestly, what’s up with that? A pitching staff which has been stellar to this point gave up a handful of freebies at the plate. As they say, however, winning is winning and the Beavers took care of business.
Now we look at the opening game of the San Diego series. A game OSU lost, 7-4. Their overall record now stands at 21-3. When I looked early on at the box score and San Diego had scored three runs on one hit, I knew trouble was in store. Of San Diego’s seven runs, only two were earned. In the end, OSU was handing out more candy than an eight year old sees on Halloween night. You know how people say it was not as close as the score indicated? This was one of those after five walks given and five errors. Only two earned runs? Not surprising. Perspective? Think losing a basketball game by five points when your team shoots 10-25 from the free throw line and turning it over 20 times. Or losing a football game by touchdown after throwing four interceptions and two fumbles. Brutal.
This could be a momentum shifting weekend for OSU. If they scratch out two wins out of the final two games, the season progresses naturally. Should they lose both, their standing from the rankings will plummet. Perhaps up to 10 or 12 spots. Granted, it is not about the rankings. And a baseball season is a journey rather than a destination. That comes in the postseason run. Furthermore, issues will need to be addressed if the Beavers lose more than one game in Sand Diego.
Beginning with pitching. Delivering a massive amount of walks only spells more trouble. In the ASU game, they manufactured the win when the pitching staff did not have the ‘A’ game going. This can only hold for so long before the top comes off. Hence, avoiding such situations become premium. Sophomore Jace Frye, expected to be out for the season following Tommy John surgery, may return in the upcoming weeks providing a much needed sparkplug. In addition, while the bullpen has performed magnificently with a 0.68 ERA through 39 2/3 innings, consistently leaving the pen to bail out the front end of the staff never makes things easy.
Then comes the defensive side of the squad. Five errors? Really? The Oregonian noted the Beavs have tremendous depth everywhere except the infield. Well, that certainly showed in Game 1 against the Toreros (San Diego). When shortstop Tyler Smith went down with a hand injury, Coach Pat Casey, as well as Beaver nation, was hoping others would step up their game. Evidence in the opener of this series has not eased anyone’s pain. Andy Peterson, replacement shortstop, had two of the five errors. Overall, OSU has committed 28 errors, compared to 31 for their opponents. Not a damaging statistic, however, not a pretty one either. Errors, more than not, result in runs scored. In 24 games, this was the first time an Oregon State opponent scored more than five runs.
Going in to this weekend, OSU had the number one RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) in the nation. This measures a team’s wins and losses balanced with strength of schedule. In baseball, road wins are more heavily weighted. For the Beavers, the rallying cry for the San Diego games will be to capture the final two games. Not just for their RPI, but because two of the next three series are on the road. Road experience is vital for long term success. And looking at the post season, should the Beavs be placed in ‘on the road’ sub regionals or regionals, they will need to remember game situations from the unfriendly confines of Goss Stadium.
There is no need to press the panic button, regardless of the paranoia I might be putting out there. On the plus side, the series this weekend is out of conference. So, win or lose, it will not affect their conference standing. That being said, it would be nice to keep pace with LSU (#3), Florida State (#4) and #1 ranked North Carolina. Speaking of panic button, relax Beaver fans. This is baseball, and my heart lies with the Beavers, not the Tar Heels.